What does PDA feel like? The discussion around PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance) and Autistic people in general often focuses on behaviours and what other people experience rather than on what Autistic people with a PDA profile feel and experience.
We are sentient beings. We are human and so we feel, we react and we do our best to keep ourselves safe in this world. When we are Autistic we experience more negativity because Autistic people are part of a marginalised community and marginalised people are not treated equally.
So how can you see things from the perspective of a PDAer?
Thinking about emotions and how situations bring about emotional responses is a good way to start. So…
Remember when you were a kid and you might have been eating a packet of sweets, your very favourite packet of sweets…
Someone might ask you for one when you opened the pack and you gave them one very willingly.
But remember what it felt like when someone asked you for a sweet when you’d only one left?
The request is the same- in both instances the person is asking you for a sweet but why does it feel different the second time to the first?
Does it feel more demanding? Like they’re asking more of you because you’ve only got one left now?
To them- they’re just asking you for a sweet but the circumstances have changed for you- now there’s more involved.
Why is there more involved?
Because you have built up a sort of relationship with this last sweet, you’re emotionally invested. You’ve been looking forward to it, you’ve counted on eating it. So it feels like they’re asking you for much more than just a sweet- they’re asking you to give up more now because there’s added disappointment that you won’t get to enjoy that last sweet. The experience of eating the packet of sweets has changed for you on an emotional level and you need to process that and readjust if you are going to hand over that last sweet.
This is why “requests” can often sound like “demands” for us PDAers. We are emotionally invested in things going to plan. Often this is because we are just about holding it together and adjustments or “requests” might seem trivial to the observer but they are huge to us because a lot of careful planning has gone in to managing our day or our world so that we don’t have to deal with extra upset.
Asking us for that last sweet might make us feel like we’re a bad person if we don’t do it. It might make us full of fear and anxiety about making the “right” or “acceptable” decision. We may feel judged (even if there is no judgement there because we have felt it so many times before).
Giving away a sweet when you have a full packet is not the same as giving one away when you’re down to your last one or two. Asking a PDAer to do something when all of our emotional energy is used up is not the same as asking someone who has lots of emotional energy to do something.
And yes I’ve generalised here to make a point. Of course there are people who will gladly hand over their last sweet too!